Talking Trees with Davey Tree

Planting Secrets from an Arborist!

October 07, 2021 The Davey Tree Expert Company Season 1 Episode 39
Talking Trees with Davey Tree
Planting Secrets from an Arborist!
Show Notes Transcript

Chris Plante from Davey's Portland, Maine, office shares some of his tree planting secrets so you'll be prepared to plant trees properly this fall!

In this episode we cover:

  • Think about where you want to plant (0:49)
  • Planting too deep and trees from a nursery (1:28) (2:49)
  • Why you shouldn't plant where a stump was (2:10)
  • Should you plant a smaller tree or larger one? (4:48)
  • Planting season in Maine (5:15)
  • Chris' favorite trees to plant in Maine's climate (5:52)
  • How to spot hemlock woolly adelgid (8:10)
  • Watering (8:51)
  • Soil (9:32)
  • Planting a tree in the wrong spot (11:25)
  • People's relationships with trees (12:21)
  • How Chris started working in arboriculture (13:44)

To find your local Davey office, check out our find a local office page to search by zip code.

To learn more about planting a tree near a stump, read our blog, Is it OK to Plant a Tree in the Same Spot?
To learn more about the burlap and wire baskets on some trees, read our blog, Should Burlap or Wire Baskets be Removed When Planting Trees?
To learn more about soil conditions, read our blog, Landscaping in Rocky Soil.
Connect with Davey Tree on social media:
Twitter: @DaveyTree
Facebook: @DaveyTree
Instagram: @daveytree
YouTube: The Davey Tree Expert Company
LinkedIn: The Davey Tree Expert Company

Have topics you'd like us to cover on the podcast? Email us at We want to hear from you!


Doug Oster: Welcome to The Davey Tree Expert Company's podcast, Talking Trees. I'm your host, Doug Oster. Each episode showcases one of Davey's certified arborists sharing advice with everyone about caring for your trees and landscapes.

We'll talk about everything from introduced pests, seasonal tree care, deer damage, how to make your trees thrive, and much, much more. Tune in every Thursday to learn more because here at the Talking Trees podcast, we know trees are the answer.

This week, I'm joined by Chris Plante. He's a district manager for the Davey Tree Expert Company in Portland, Maine. Before we started talking, I thought he was from Portland, Oregon. There's a big difference, Chris, between Maine and Portland when it comes to climate, right?

Chris Plante: A little bit of a difference.

Doug: We're talking today about planting trees. This is such a great time to start planting trees. When you're thinking about a homeowner that's going to put his own trees in, and I think I know the answer already from interviewing arborist. What's the first thing you tell them if they're going to plant a tree?

Chris: Usually I ask them first where they want to plant it and what they're looking for.

Doug: As far as sun and shade, and how big it's going to get, that sort of thing?

Chris: Right. Some people are looking for-- sometimes they're just looking for some type of screen or some people just want something that looks great in their front yard.

Doug: For the specifics of planting, if they're going to put a tree in. We've decided, "Okay, I've got enough room. The sunshade is okay." When I put that tree in and I dig that hole, what should I be thinking about when I'm digging that hole?

Chris: For the hole specifically, is the depth for the root ball, what's the soil like where they're planting it, what's it next to. Some people want to plant where they had a tree and they grind the stump. Generally, I don't recommend planting right in that same spot again and we run into that a lot here.

Doug: Talk about that because I do get that question a lot, and usually it's something like they came and cut down a huge pine tree, grind the stump out, "And now I want to plant an Oak there." Tell me why that's a bad idea and why you don't want people to plant there?

Chris: Generally, if they're trying to plant right where they were, we want those roots to have a good chance of growing. You can grind the stump, but there's still a lot of roots from the tree, and you can't always get all of them.

Doug: Certainly, with a pine, which shallow-rooted, they're going be everywhere. It's going to be a problem. We find the right spot and, of course, we don't want to go too deep. That seems to be a problem I hear echoed from other arborists that you got to be sure that when you're setting that tree in there, people think, "Oh, I want to go deeper. It's better for the tree." The opposite it's true. Right?

Chris: I see that a lot. A lot of trees that seem sick, they were planted improperly, they're too deep. I think some people don't realize that when they get something from a nursery, maybe they measured it outright. If it's still in the ball, you probably don't have the correct depth for the root flare.

Doug: I found that to be true and something I didn't know, not just from ball and burlap, but sometimes in gallon, two-gallon, three-gallon containers. I went to plant a tree and I thought to myself, "Oh, wait a minute, root flare, root flare." Even in a one-gallon, two-gallon, three-gallon container, I had to brush it off the top just because of where they dug the tree, just to be sure that I get that above grade. As we said, that's critical. Right?

Chris: Yes. Very much.

Doug: When your team is out there and they dig this hole, how do you know how deep to go? Do you have some trick or anything, or you just stick it in there or dig the hole and then put some more dirt if it's too low? How do you do that?

Chris: Before we even dig the hole, we'll get the-- if it has burlap and a cage on that, we'll get that off, at least off the top of the ball. Then sometimes, you have to brush a lot of soil back to find that root flare. Then you can just use two shovels to make a tee to get your general depth of what you're going to need.

Doug: How about for width of the whole, how wide should you go?

Chris: Generally, for one and a half times larger.

Doug: Am I better off to start with a little one or a bigger one, or doesn't matter?

Chris: I think we usually have better luck with the younger ones.

Doug: Why is that? Why would you get the smaller one? It's easier to get established.

Chris: Yes. Generally, sometimes the larger ones are a bit stressed when you start removing larger trees. I think you need to put a lot more of a program to make sure that it's going to survive.

Doug: Tell me a little bit about the planting season in Maine. Are you in primetime planting season like we are down here a little further south in Pittsburgh?

Chris: We do a lot of planning in the spring, maybe early summer, and then we have a small window in the fall because the ground is going to freeze. It's first week of October. It could start happening anytime now. Generally, we do have a window late September through October, but anything later than that, then we're pushing the limit.

Doug: We're about a month later here. Talk about up there some of your favorite trees that you like to talk about with the homeowners. Now, I know there's a lot of things to consider when putting a tree in, but you've g to have some favorites as a tree guy.

Chris: I'm partial to Japanese maples, especially if they want something that isn't going to get too large, is going to look great. They grow pretty slowly, so they don't need a ton of care off the bat. Usually, nine times out of 10, someone is looking for something that's going to look great and they're gardening out front or something. I always lean towards those.

We have pretty good luck with them because we can keep them maintained for snow load in the wintertime so that the branches don't break. A lot of people will ask for magnolias, but that can get difficult sometimes.

Doug: Is there something else besides the Japanese maple that makes your list?

Chris: A big request people want to do some type of screen from their neighbors in town. I like hemlocks because you can go a few different routes with them. Some people want to maintain them as a head. Some people want to keep them natural-looking. Other than wooly, it adelgid up here. They usually thrive.

Doug: I was going to ask you down here, hemlock woolly adelgid is tough, but I'm just guessing. You tell me if I'm right or wrong. The winter up there helps you a little bit with the hemlock woolly adelgid to kick it back?

Chris: Let's see, I'm trying to think. Probably seven or eight years ago, we first got woolly adelgid so it's fairly new here and it's only starting to really take off now. The winters have been pretty mild the last couple of years, so we haven't really seen if the winter is going to help us with that.

Doug: From someone living down south of you, cold winters surely helped me out. I often tell the arborist, I've got a ton of hemlocks on the property. Like you, I love my hemlocks and I'm spending a lot of time though treating them. Tell people if they have a hemlock, what it looks like if it's infested with the hemlock woolly adelgid.

Chris: Sometimes you might not notice unless you go up and inspect the underside. It might just be a few little pinpoint size, white dots. In other cases, the tree may look white.

Doug: That's my case. It looks like there's been snow on it. I'm working hard to keep it in check, especially since it's on the bottom of the trees. I don't want it to work its way up to the top of tree where I've got to call my friends at Davey and say, “Man, I need this taken care of because I cannot get up in that tree”.

Now, let's get back to tree planting. How about watering after we plant? What should we be thinking about there?

Chris: A couple of things. When we are planting it, we like the water as we're backfilling the soil so that we don't end up in any pockets in there, so that it settle out on us. Right off the bat, it's going to get a good watering. Then after that, depending on the weather here, sometimes it can be quite rainy. If it's dry, we usually do a soak at the base around three times a week.

Doug: What are you looking at in soil generally, in Maine? Are we talking of rocky? We're dealing with a lot of clay down here and I want to ask you about that.

Chris: It can vary. There's a lot of areas of real sandy soil. Some places are pretty good low. There are some areas with the clay near the marsh areas. Then on the coast, we have, where we do a lot of our business, it's very ledgy. That can add a whole other scenario to planting.

Doug: In general, from what I've learned from you guys, you're not adding anything to that planting hole. Is that correct? Trying to use the native soil?

Chris: Yes. Rule of thumb, we try to use native soil. Obviously, we don't really want to play in clay.

Doug: That's my question. When you're looking for a planting site, not only we're looking for enough room, the right sun, and shade, but do you have to sometimes look around for the right soil close to this spot? That's what I try and do. Sometimes there's this one place for a tree, and it's not good soil. Do you have to change the rule of thumb then, or you just don't plant a tree there?

Chris: I try to recommend not planting there. I'm working with a client right now where-- they're a new client of ours, they had a maple tree planted 15 years ago, and the top is dying, which generally means there's a root issue and just doing some investigation, it's in clay, it's having a hard time it's curling itself and we're going to try to save it, but it was just planted in the wrong location.

Doug: What do you do to try and save a tree like that? It sounds tough.

Chris: We try to improve the drainage around there, this tree was girdled, so we [unintelligible 00:11:36] the girdle roots off to try to-- We're trying to help with drainage there and we're giving it some fertilization, try to help. It's in severe stress.

Doug: When you look at a tree like that, it sounds to me like the client loves the tree and wants it to do its thing. From a scientific point of view, from an arborist, when you look at a tree like that, what would you prefer to do?

Chris: For this particular one, from looking at it, I know it's probably not a battle we're going to win. We might be able to prolong the life. They love the tree and they want to try to prolong its life. They know that that's probably a best-case scenario for it.

Doug: There's something about people and their trees, I just got a message today, a guy was wondering if he could take the roots on a maple and just flatten them out so that he could cut the grass. I said, "Don't touch those roots." He came back with this wonderful message saying what the tree had been through, it survived a hurricane it had done this. It means something to them. Talk a little bit about that in your job in dealing with clients and their relationships with their trees.

Chris: People love their trees, especially they call us and they want to take care of it, you know they have an attachment to it. From our perspective, we might show up and think, "Wow, that is not good-looking tree", but they love it. You have to keep that in mind and try to come up with the best plan to give them what they want.

Doug: You know how nature is. Sometimes as an expert like yourself, you can look at a tree and say, "I don't know", but after you do the work, and you do save that tree, tell me about that feeling.

Chris: That's a good feeling. As an arborist, you love winning that that battle. The client is usually over the moon. You create a good relationship with them just because of that. It is a good feeling.

Doug: Tell me a little bit about how you got into this.

Chris: Kind of on a whim. I worked in an office for years, and I knew I love the outdoors. I grew up in Northern Maine, where that's all I had was the outdoors. It might be in my blood. My grandfather was a logger in the early 1900s. On a whim, I said, "Maybe I'll like climbing trees and taking care of trees", and I found out immediately this was the career for me.

Doug: All I had was the outdoors. Tell me about that in Northern Maine. That sounds awesome.

Chris: Put this way, the town I grew up in there were no neighboring towns, they were just labeled as numbers or letters.

Doug: That sounds so cool to me. I live seven miles from Downtown, but that sounds like a dream to grow up in. Maybe for some people, too remote.

Chris: I think it was great until maybe you're a teenager. Then you feel like you want to go see some bigger and better things, which I did, but that's always been home to me and I love going up north and spending time up there. I'm never going to shake that. I could come down to the city, but I'd rather be up there.

Doug: I have to ask you, maybe you take it for granted, but Maine is just one of the most beautiful places you could ever visit. I think about you and you said about working on the coast. What a setup to be planting a tree and looking at the ocean for a guy that doesn't have an ocean in Pennsylvania.

Chris: Sometimes you show up to a property, and I've lived here and seeing the coast my whole life but sometimes you go and you remember that you're lucky and that this is a great location to be doing this.

Doug: Just tell me in general, what is the best thing about your job?

Chris: That's a hard question. When I was still in the field, one of the best things about it is that every day was a different scenario. There was problem-solving to be had on every aspect of it, whether it's trying to prune something, to give them the shape that they're looking for, or was a tricky removal, or was we're trying to save this tree that they planted in memorial for their grandfather. Every day was something different and interesting. Every day there's something good to hang your hat off of.

Doug: All right, Chris, I'm going to leave it right there. That's great stuff. Appreciate it now. I hope you get up north before it gets really cold [laughs]. Thanks so much for your time.

Chris: Thanks. Nice to meet you.

Doug: The old saying goes, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is today." Good planting friends. Tune in every Thursday to the Talking Trees podcast from the Davey Tree Expert Company. I'm your host, Doug Oster. Do me a favor, subscribe to the podcast. We're having fun here.

Next week I've got a special interview with Chuck Leavell. He's keyboardist and musical director of the Rolling Stones. Yes, the Rolling Stones. Besides his love of music, Chuck has a passion for the environment and has been a sustainable forester for decades. He's the subject of a new documentary called The Tree Man, and I can't wait to talk to him. As always, we'd like to remind you on the Talking Trees podcast, trees are the answer.